Behind the Scenes at the Illuminations Tour in Somerville

Contributing Reporters on this Newscast: Kayla Mamelak

Somerville, MA, Dec. 17 – For the 18th year in a row, about 1,000 residents and visitors climbed aboard trollies to visit “illuminated” houses all over Somerville on December 13.

The families who “deck the halls,” hang the lights, wire the facades and pay the extra-large electricity bills are artists as much as anyone else, according to Rachel Strutt of the Somerville Arts Council.

“Sometimes we think of artists as people who went to art school, who studied painting or literature, but the Illuminations Tour shows that everyone is creative,” Strutt said as she took a break from helping people find a spot on one of the trollies. “The majority of these homeowners haven’t gone to art school, yet they are creating beautiful displays that involve aesthetic decision-making.”

Jerry Carvalho, of Springfield Street, started helping his father light up his house when he was five years old.

“We always had a small nativity inside the house, and he wanted to bring to enjoyment of the nativity to everybody,” he remembered.

“We had three pieces,” Carvalho said as he stood on the sidewalk in front of a nativity scene with many more than three pieces, arranged in a “stable” set up outside his home. “Since then, it’s grown and grown and grown. Dad’s passed away but the tradition still exists.”

Carvalho’s display includes hay, “stars” made of mini-lights, and illuminated animals, kings, Joseph and Mary. But on a recent visit, there was no Jesus.

“He’ll go in on Christmas Eve,” Carvalho explained. “I used to put him in earlier, but he kept disappearing on me.”

On Otis Street, John Ragno’s decorating tradition has grown from one to three houses.

“This is my Christmas,” Ragno explained. “At my age, what do I need? I don’t need tools… It gives me something to look forward to, to be honest with you. My daughters help me now, and my sons and my grandsons and my son-in-laws. They’re all getting into it.”

Over on Central Street, Leonard “Lenny” Rigione, makes his own decorations out of wood, lights, and even windshield wiper motors. The basement is full of Santas and elves and reindeer, piles of tools, stacks of paint cans. And the house doesn’t have a spare foot of empty space. The balcony, the porch, the yard: everything’s covered with rocking reindeer, candy canes, and lots and lots of Santas.

“These are all my favorites,” Rigione noted, as he held up a giant, smiling Santa Claus. “Anything with Santa is a favorite.”

“It started out to be a hobby and then all of a sudden the kids got a kick out of some of the things I made,” he said. “I’m 73 years old. I’m getting tired of this but as long as I can hear the ‘oohs’ and the ‘aahs’ from the little kids, I’ll keep doing it.”

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